This is another response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were challenged:
Where is your heaven on earth?
When I first started responding to this prompt, the attraction was that KK asked for something imaginitive, so having not written much creatively, it gave me a reason just to dabble with some poetry or flash.
Since then, I like to visit arty sites, and try to find inspiration for some writing.
This week, I combined the two. Yes, I know I answered this prompt once already, but it felt like a cheat, just throwing a bunch of images onto the page. And, as it happens, I found an image on Deviant which goes perfectly with the prompt.
I’ll place the image at the end but meantime, I hope you enjoy the flash. Beware that my reader estimates an 8-10 minute read.
“About soddingtime”, I curse, immune to the soothing voice on the loudspeaker, announcing the commencement of boarding. This is one of the reasons I never normally fly with these guys, but, how bad could they be?
Six hours, that’s how bad.
The last thing I need is for “friendly guy” to park his ass opposite. Correction. The second last thing. The last is when he leans over, offering a clammy hand and pants “Hi”.
“I’m Harry.” A dumb smile. “How ya doing?”
“Matt”. I shake his hand, but I’m in no mood for small talk.
Not taking the hint, he continues. “Only just made it.” He’s breathing heavily. “Was right over in the food court.”
I look up. I see chubby fingers wiping a balding head, but using an immaculate hankie. He notices me for the first time. “You okay, buddy? If you don’t mind my saying, you look beat.”
I force a smile.
“Work. Long hours. I just wanna get on the airplane and get some Z’s.”
Sixty-hour weeks, to be exact, running up to this vacation, and even that didn’t get that bloody albatross of a project over the line. Yesterday, it was 10 PM. Even today, I had to dash out of a meeting to head for the airport. Man, I need this break. So, when these airline idiots jerk me around…
The next question is obvious. “Whaddya do?”
“Digital agency. I create those ads you see on tv.”
He looks at me sympathetically. “Wow. Tough at the top, huh?”
“Something like that. We’re late on a big project. They been working me hard, didn’t even want me to come on this trip”. For the first time, I return his friendliness. This guy is harmless enough.
And they hadn’t. Wanted me to come. They tried to twist my arm. I had to dig my heels in. But I booked this trip six months ago, long before the project was even on the horizon. Long before those cowboys in Marketing promised that impossible deadline. They ran their mouths off, not me. No way I’m gonna put my life on hold, for a crisis they caused. Jeez… if they’d only have asked someone technical before they committed to their deadline.
I run my fingers through my hair to massage my scalp, wake myself up. I’m glad, at least, that I had found time to dash out yesterday lunch, to have a barber cut it short. It’s a darned site more manageable this way.
This trip had been too good to pass. First visit to Europe. A month, just to soak it up. Starting in the Alps, a world away from the filth and grime here. Space. Fresh, clean air, and should be a site cooler up in the mountains than at home. I can’t wait.
The loudspeaker again. But he’s calling first class. It’ll be a while before he gets to me, but friendly guy stands.
“This is me.”
He’s almost apologetic, as, for the first time, I catch a glimpse of his boarding pass. First class. I can’t help but be impressed.
As he moves toward the gate, he nods at the rucksack on the seat next to me.
“Don’t forget your bag”, he warns. “If you’re not careful, they’ll blow it up.”
A parting shot. With friendly guy gone, I wait to be called.
“Would passengers with tickets rows 18-30 now make their way to Gate 42.” The intercom again. At last. Damn these new glasses. When I get back, I’ve got to get them fixed. They keep falling down my nose every two minutes. And, grasping my bright red knapsack, I trudge wearily to the gate.
I pass a bank of mirrors. Jeez… that guy was right. I’m wasted. And this shirt could have done with meeting an iron. Further confirmation from the steward as I show my ticket.
“Never mind, sir, there’s no turbulence reported en route, so you can get some shuteye on the flight over.” I grunt in response as I shuffle toward my ride.
On the airplane, I just want someplace to crash. To my left, I see Harry, trying to work out how his seat folds into a bed, but my berth is in the coach.
Okay… Row 24. Must be down here some… oh, for christ’s sake!
I’ve found it, but there’s a bulkhead immediately behind. Straight away, I know what this means. I test the seat, which moves a mere two inches.
“Miss?” I attract the attention of a steward. “Is it possible to change seats? Just somewhere I can put my seat right back?”
“I’m sorry, sir, the flight is fully booked”, but adds sardonically, “but I’ll check when boarding is complete, see if we have any no-shows.”
Oh, so sweet. Oh, so useless.
I cross the Atlantic sitting bolt upright. I might as well have been standing. I’m grouchy as hell when we finally touch down in Geneva. It doesn’t help when that jobsworth wants to search my bags.
But I’m through at last, and at least they laid on a bus to take us on to the hotel. I take my sleep mask out of my pocket once more. It looks like it’s gonna be a sunny day here, and I don’t mind one bit that I’m missing it.
I don’t remember much else. I just want to close my eyes.
Oh, I remember that jolt. I peek out and see some white-on-green road signs, which I recognise from the brochure. Must be in France at last. Fucking roads here are as bad as back home.
I must’ve been on autopilot when we finally got to the hotel. Not even sure how I got here. But as I come to, this room looks pretty comfortable – the bed was sure comfy enough – and down there are my ‘sac and case. Shame I never got undressed, though.
It’s light outside.
What time is it? I study my wrist. Aw, bugger, I’m still on Eastern time. Makes no sense to me here. But, boy, am I hungry. Let’s have a quick shower, freshen up, then see if I can’t find something to eat.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m in the communal area of the hotel. There’s no-one about, but the wall-clock explains why: 5:30 AM. Jeez… I must’ve slept for, like, sixteen hours!
“Can I help you, m’sieur?” Unmistakeable French. The night porter has seen me.
“Hi. I was hoping to get some breakfast?”
“Ah, ze breakfast commence à six heures, m’sieur.” I can forgive his English, this guy probably never gets to meet any guests. “You are a leetle too early.” He, hints toward the clock, though his hand invites me into the dining room, “ze staff weel be here soon. vous pouvez les attendre.” Then, immediately correcting himself, “you can wait in ze restaurant”.
“No thanks. Think I’ll check the place out and come back”. I can tell, he doesn’t understand a word, but I saunter across to the entrance. My first day here wasn’t so hot, but I can start making amends, as of now.
The main thing is the air. It strikes me, smacks me full on my face. I gulp it in. Then my eyes take in the vista. For ages, I just stand and gaze. I listen hard… but nothing. Only birds. This place really could be heaven on earth.
From behind me, I hear the swish of the automatic door, and I’m reminded that it must be about time, now. There’s plenty of exploring to be done later, but for now, let’s explore these famous French baguettes.
I hear a voice behind me. “Matt. How ya doing, buddy? Thought we’d lost you when you never showed for dinner last night.”
I turn. “Morning, Harry.”